How our airports advertise tourism
The daily refrain by top government officials about the great potential of tourism in Nigeria is empty rhetoric; there is nothing on ground to back it up. Our substandard airports betray the wishful thinking about tourism development. Talking about tourism development in Nigeria is like talking about Nigeria’s huge resource potentials, which have not translated into wealth for the citizenry.
The wealth, as it were, means nothing. The expression about the enormous wealth of Nigeria has been re-echoed since October 1, 1960, the day Nigeria got her independence. But more than five decades later, that wealth singsong, rather than transform Nigeria, has turned into a nightmare for everyone. Maladministration has held the wealth in shackles with discontent across the federation.
After visiting the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos last week to pick up someone, I was appalled by the decadent condition of what should be a big tourism infrastructure. The airport is Nigeria’s busiest gateway to the world; but rather than portray that status, the airport is in total disintegration. The infrastructure is low class and can hardly attract anyone.
I was particularly appalled by the external looks of the airport, which is sickening. First, the bulbs that bear the amber lights name of Murtala Muhammed International Airport are falling apart. It is obvious that since those bulbs were fixed nearly four decades ago, no one has cared to repair or replace them. I was scandalised by the amber lights of the airport that announce the main terminal building from afar, especially, at night. It has been left to disintegrate and yet millions are collected under the roof daily. The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria that has responsibility over the airports turns a blind eye to the decadence. All it is interested is raising parking charges all around the decadent airport.
Before I got closer to observe the falling amber bulbs, I saw hell trying to find a parking space. But that is not the main issue. The issue is that all the parking lots are dilapidated with pools and puddles of muddy waters everywhere. I began to ask myself what kind of airport is this. I have travelled to over 30 countries and more than 40 cities around the world; I have never come across an airport that is so dilapidated and uncared for like the Lagos Airport. This is so sad and nerve-rending.
The decay at the airport could be seen from the Hajj Camp taxi/bus park, which is so decrepit to the extent that if you dare walk into the park to catch a bus or taxi when it rains, you will come out muddied. Whereas, the taxi/bus operators have been forced by FAAN to repaint their vehicles in blue colour, the aim is just to fleece the poor people; while nothing is done to put the park in order. The parks nearer the main terminal building are in worse condition. You get to the airport with a clean car only to leave muddied after swimming through the numerous muddy potholes.
After I left the airport and was relieved of the unsolicited pestering by numerous money changers soliciting for dollar, pound and euro, as well as cab drivers asking to carry you, I wondered how a first-time visitor/tourist would ever opt to come again after all the nasty experiences. The airport is so irritating and clearly advertises how poorly the tourism industry is in Nigeria. A first time visitors would most likely vow never to come again by virtue of the poor airport condition. The large number of unidentifiable faces parading at the airport poses security risk.
Tourism starts from the airport. A tourist gets his or her first impression from five indicators, namely: the airport, ride to the hotel, the road/traffic condition, hotel services, the people encountered while on the trip and security situation. Out of these, the condition of the airport makes the first impression and indeed, reveals what the other elements would likely be.
The other day, the Country Manager of the hotel-booking portal Jumia, Mr. Kushal Dutta, said the hospitality industry in Nigeria might overtake the downstream oil sector by 2021. Mr. Dutta was talking in connection with the launch of the African Union (AU) passport. The Jumia boss thinks that Nigeria would benefit immensely from an AU common passport initiative in the area of tourism. But he did not say what Nigeria should do to be able to benefit. Mere adoption of an African common passport alone is not enough to boost tourism because similar sub-regional groupings, like the ECOWAS, have done nothing to boost tourism in Nigeria.
If tourism is one advantage the AU passport would offer, then Nigeria will have an uphill task, as she competes with world-class tourist destinations like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa and Egypt, among others. These tourist countries have all it takes to attract millions of tourists annually to their shores.
For instance, the top 10 tourist destinations in Africa, according to the United Nations World Tourism Barometer in 2013 are Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Namibia and Senegal in that order. Nigeria is nowhere to be found in African tourism ranking not talk of the world.
The world’s top tourist countries are France, United States, China, Germany, Russia, Canada, Italy, Australia, Turkey, Hong Kong, and Macau, among others. A global tourism map will definitely exclude Nigeria. A trip to any of these countries will show beauty and serenity that starts from the airport. The international airports in those countries are like 5-star hotels that exude irresistible attraction and ambience. Nigeria’s international airports, on the other hand, are the opposite of what those airports are.
Rather than paying lip service to tourism development, Nigeria’s governments at all levels should accept the fact that there is yet no tourism industry in Nigeria. What we have at the moment are pockets of attempt at tourism by some state governments and private individuals. The Cross River State Government has been in the forefront of promoting tourism with the Obudu Cattle Ranch and Tinapa complex. But there is no standard airport and the roads to the state are impassable. Nigeria should take a cue from countries that are tourist destinations and begin by putting the airports and other infrastructures in order.